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Allergies in Pets

Table of Contents

(Original Article Published via

Allergies in Cats and Dogs

Dogs and cats, just like huumans, can have allergies. More than 30% of all skin irritations in our pets and fur kids can be attributed to allergies. Allergens can be found in foods, inhaled allergens like weed, tree and grass pollens, moulds or fungi, insects, carpet fibres and even other pets. The age of onset for initial allergy symptoms is usually between 6 months and 3 years of age.

Just like we inherit allergies from our parents, so can our fur kids. If one or both parents have allergies that will increase the likelihood that his / her offspring will also have allergies. It is for this reason that some breeds are more predisposed to allergies than others. That is not to say however that allergies are limited to only these breeds.

Allergies can present as a variety of symptoms, but in the dog, the most common symptoms occur as skin irritations: itching, scratching, digging, and gnawing at the skin, often to the point of creating open raw wounds over large areas of the body. Chronic ear infections are another common symptom. Occasionally dogs will have respiratory symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, or a nasal or ocular discharge. Food allergies may produce, in addition to skin irritations, vomiting and / or diarrhoea. Symptoms can extend to include epileptiform seizures, and many holistic vets feel that allergies can ultimately result in chronic diseases such as arthritis, asthma, chronic urinary tract infections, inflammatory bowel disease, etc.

Interestingly, whereas dogs typically have itchy skin symptoms, a human allergic response usually produces respiratory symptoms. An estimated 10 percent of the human population may be allergic to animals (the rate for being allergic to cats is about twice as high as for dogs); a higher rate of 20 to 30 percent of individuals with asthma have pet allergies.

In a nutshell, allergy is the result of an immune system that has, for one reason or another, turned against the self. Sometimes, this reaction seems instantaneous, as when your fur kid receives a food that contains something to which he or she is allergic, and he or she breaks out almost immediately with rashy, itchy skin. But frequently, allergies may only become evident in your fur kids after gestating for a long period, as long as three years or more. It becomes almost impossible to pinpoint the exact cause that has instigated the symptoms.

Health care is an ongoing process and a healthy body is the best guard against environmental stresses. When looking for holistic or integrated pet care, we recommend finding a veterinarian who prioritizes nutrition and diet in the initial stages of treatment. Nutrition is truly the foundation of health, and should not be overlooked in any disease or health problem. Good quality nutritional supplements should also be added to the regimen. Quality nutritional supplements can go a long way to improve health and assist your pet in overcoming disease or illness! Other things to look for would be credentials or certifications in specific modalities including acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, etc. Ask the practitioner for a list of treatment options they offer and/or the modalities that they are proficient in.

Keep in mind that alternative therapies can often complement traditional veterinary care and may eliminate or allow you to use fewer conventional drugs.

Inhalant Allergens

Your pet can be allergic to the same inhalant allergens that may cause you to suffer. These include pollens, moulds and house dust mites. Pollen allergens often occur seasonally, such as ragweed, cedar and grass pollens. However other allergens are present year-round, such as moulds, dander and dust mites.

Contact Allergens

It is thought that up to 70% of pet allergy exposure is by contact with the skin, thus making it the leading source of irritation and allergy to a substance. Animals with allergic disease may have small cracks, invisible to the naked eye, on the surface of their skin. When an affected pet comes into contact with pollens in the environment, allergens gain entry through these small openings. Because our pets are not bathed daily, offending allergens can remain on the skin for days or weeks at a time, causing continued irritation, itching and other symptoms.

Flea Allergens

One of the most common type of allergens in both dogs and cats is flea allergy. This allergic reaction is caused by the saliva of the flea, and can often lead to severe hair loss, itching and secondary skin infections. One flea bite on an allergic pet can cause intense reactions. Flea allergy can often be managed through avoidance with flea deterrent products. A word of caution when choosing an insecticide: Pyrethrum is a common ingredient in many insecticides and can also cause allergies.

Food Allergens

Food allergy is the most likely cause of allergy symptoms in animals less than 1 year of age. Food allergies also manifest themselves with ear inflammation/infection (which can lead to head shaking), feet licking & chewing, face rubbing and itchy skin. In some cases, dietary change alone may not be enough to bring your pet below symptom level. Some may suggest that this lack of improvement may indicate the test results are not as accurate as they should be. Keeping in mind that allergies are cumulative, dietary change alone many not be enough to bring your pet below symptom level because there are still more allergens reacting other than the foods that dietary change alone cannot address.

Adverse reactions to food consist of two different responses: immune-mediated and non-immune-mediated. The disease caused by the former is called food allergy and is a type-IV hypersensitivity reaction, whereas the latter reaction is recognized simply as food intolerance.

While sometimes complicated, allergies are the best understood of all unwanted food reactions because they always involve immune system reactions to specific components in foods. If you have an allergic response to a food, certain proteins in your immune system identify and bind together with specific components (called antigens) in foods. While food antigens are typically protein-like in nature, our, and our pets’, immune system can mount an allergic response to some carbohydrates in foods, as well as some fat-plus-carbohydrate-containing molecules (called lipopolysaccharides). Still, in every one of these situations, our immune system gets involved in a food allergy, and, because it does, levels of immunoglobulins in our blood can be measured to document the allergenic response. However, even though blood work can be used to help identify a food allergy, this blood work is not always conclusive, since food allergy tests can often show “false positive” results in which a food allergy is not actually present, and the immune system has reacted to some other non-food molecule.

Food intolerances, in which the pet develops an allergic response to a non-nutrient in the food, such as additives, coloring, flavour enhancers and preservatives, however, is increasing based on our daily interactions. While dietary therapy is not a mainstay in the treatment of itchy pets, feeding the best, most natural and holistic diet possible is recommended. All pets, regardless of the presence of disease, benefit from eating the best diet.

Supplements work best when fed with a good diet. Supplements form the foundation of the treatment of many pets with allergic dermatitis, so feeding the best diet to these pets is indicated.

Some pets experience modest to dramatic improvement in their skin disorders (such as less itching, less flakiness, less redness, or less body odour) when fed a wholesome diet, even when the diagnosis of food allergy is not technically the correct diagnosis. This may be the result of contamination of the commercially purchased diet with additives, chemical preservatives, pesticides, or hormones. It may also occur as the result of processing the food, which removes nutrients from the diet and alters the nutrients. For example, heating of the foods to temperatures over 200 degrees Celsius causes an increased level of trans-fatty acids. Many foods contain increased levels of Omega-6 fatty acids relative to Omega-3 fatty acids; increased Omega-6 fatty acids predispose to inflammation. Because a wholesome diet designed to be hypo-allergenic is also available in raw format, dietary therapy is often recommended for pets with skin disorders.

Food intolerances are less clear-cut than food allergies. One thing that we have learned to date is that food intolerance are not the same as food allergies, and they are not dependent on interactions between food antigens and our immune system. In fact, a food intolerance is not dependent on any single interaction, and for this reason, it tends to be less predictable than food allergy and also less consistent.

Perhaps the best known example of food intolerance is lactose intolerance in humans. Since one entire category of food intolerances work in the same way as lactose intolerance, it is worth taking a close look at lactose intolerance and how this process occurs.

Lactose is a sugar that is present primarily in milk of mammals, including cows. For this reason, lactose is often referred to as “milk sugar“. Lactose is a compound sugar made up of glucose and galactose. In technical terms, it is called a disaccharide. Unless we can break lactose apart into glucose and galactose within our digestive tract, we cannot fully digest most milk or milk products. The way that lactose gets broken apart within our digestive tract is with the help of an enzyme called lactase. If enough lactase is present to break apart the amount of lactose present in the food, we do not become lactose intolerant. We are able to tolerate lactose because we have enough of the enzyme (lactase) to break apart the amount of lactose that we consume. However, this “if” can be a big “if“. Many people do not have enough lactase enzyme in their digestive tract to break down the substantial amounts of lactose that they consume.

Lactose intolerance is just one example of an enzyme-related food intolerance. It is possible for a person (or fur kid) to have an equal amount of difficulty breaking apart other sugars found in food.

To evaluate the response of a pet with a suspected reaction to food, it is necessary to feed the hypo-allergenic diet, and nothing else, for at least 8 weeks, 12 weeks recommended. Fresh water (or distilled water) should be used during this period. No treats or table scraps can be given to the pet, or the 8-week dietary trial must begin again.

Environment-related cross reactions are closely related to allergies since they always involve the activity of our immune system. At its most basic level, cross reactivity involves the ability of our immune system to recognize similarities between all types of allergens regardless of their source. Earlier in this section, we focused specifically on food allergens that our immune system gets exposed to through the process of eating. But things we do not eat can also contain allergens, and if these allergens closely resemble certain protein structures in our food, cross reactions can occur. When cross reactions occur, our immune system ends up responding to a second protein structure in the same way that it responded to the initial allergen. For example, we might breathe in pollen from a birch tree during the season in which birch trees release their pollen. Inside of birch pollen is a potential allergen called Bet v 1. Our immune system can react to this birch pollen allergen, and as a result, we can end up with a seasonal allergy to this tree pollen allergy.

Now let’s consider the food side of this cross reaction. Inside the protein structure of an apple, there is a protein molecule called Mal d 1. This molecule is similar to the Bet v 1 molecule found in birch pollen, and it can also act as an allergen. Because our immune system can recognize the similarity between the Mal d 1 molecule in apples and the Bet v 1 molecule in birch pollen, we huumans can end up not only with a seasonal tree pollen allergy, but with a year-round allergy to apples as well. This phenomenon is referred to as a cross reaction, and in this case, it involves a cross reaction between an inhaled molecule in the environment (birch tree pollen), and a molecule in food (apple allergen).

Environment-food cross reactions can be as complicated or even more complicated to recognize as food allergies and food intolerances. On the environment side, they might be seasonal and only a problem during certain times of year. On the food side, they are likely to be year round, and may involve a half dozen or more foods. Due to all of these complicating factors, cross reactions may often require the help of your integrated vet to correctly identify.

The most common reason for failing to improve is one of two causes:

  • The pets itching is not related to food allergy / hypersensitivity;
  • Or the pet parent rushes the dietary trial and does not give the pet at least 8 weeks to see whether the hyper-allergenic diet will work.

Commercial vitamins and minerals, which most often contain flavouring, are added after the trial diet and after the pet has been assessed for any reaction to these supplements.

To summarise:

  • Allergies can either be attributed to food intolerances or dermatitis;
  • Food intolerances are becoming common, as observed by us daily, and the best approach is dietary therapy;

Diagnosing dermatitis can be extremely difficult and time consuming as there are five different canine skin allergies. We discuss these in more detail below.

Common Indoor Allergens

Kapok - is typically found in furniture upholstery, pillows and in stuffed animals. In these cases, isolation of the patient from such areas or removal of those items from the home are indicated.Orris root - are the stems of three species of iris. They are often used as a fixative in potpourri to enhance colour and fragrance as well as certain cosmetics, and can be recognized by their violet scented fragrance.
Pyrethrum - class of insecticides was originally formulated from plants of the Compositae (Asteraceae) family, which includes daisies and chrysanthemums. Pyrethrum refers to both the crude plant extract and the marketed formulation of insecticide. Sisal (hemp) - is a term which refers to both a species of agave, and to the fibre which can be produced from this plant by processing its leaves. Commonly used in rope and twine, as well as paper, cloth, wall coverings and carpets.
House Dust - The allergens within dust mite are distributed through the waste products of the dust mite. The most common areas in which dust mites can be found are carpets, bare floors, furniture upholstery, pillows, mattresses, box springs, stuffed animals, books and in high humidity and damp areas. Many of these are very difficult to isolate from and therefore maximum amount of cleaning is advocated where mite allergies are a problem. In cases where they occur in carpet, vacuuming regularly with special HEPA filter bags is indicated. Bare floors should be mopped and dusted at least 3 times a week.Cockroach - The allergen includes secretions and faeces from the cockroach. The allergen is widely distributed in house dust and concentrations are highest in kitchen areas, however it is detectable throughout the house. They generally live in moist and shady areas. They prefer warm temperatures and do not tolerate cold. Commonly they are found in landscape areas and are abundant in yards, in palm trees and hollow trees. Cockroaches are also common in basements, sewers, crawl spaces, cracks and crevices in porches and foundations. Typically, cockroaches will move indoors in rainy or cold climates and populations will increase visibly during those times. They may enter the house via sewer connections, under doors, around utility pipes and through air ducts.

Common Fungi & Mould Allergens

Moulds can be found almost anywhere, and all moulds produce airborne spores. Typically, their growth is stimulated by warmth and increases in humidity. They tend therefore to be most prevalent during hot humid months. Basements, compost piles, cut grass, barns and wooded areas are very typical spots for finding large populations of moulds. In an older bathroom, a hot shower will also temporarily increase the mould population. Typically, therefore, moulds will and can be found in almost any and every home and office environment, both indoor and outdoor. The important point about mould allergy is that it is often related to an overgrowth of Candida; this yeast causes cross reactivity to many other yeasts and mould fungi. Once a Candida allergy is triggered, your fur kids may experience allergies to more common moulds (see: Mould Allergy, AFSA (Article)). Following is a list of ways in which mould population can be decreased or diminished to a large extent.

CLADOSPORIUM -Grows on plants, leather, rubber, cloth, paper and wood. One of the most common causes of mould allergy. (see: South African report of first case of chromoblastomycosis caused by Cladosporium (syn Cladophialophora) carrionii infection in a cat with feline immunodeficiency virus and lymphosarcoma (PubMed))

ASPERGILLUS - Found in soil, damp hay, on grain and on fruit. (see: Invasive aspergillosis in developing countries (Wikipedia))
PHOMA - Grows on magazines, books and other paper products. (see: Indoor Mold, Toxigenic Fungi, and Stachybotrys chartarum: Infectious Disease Perspective (PMC), Seasonal respiratory allergy and the associated pollens in South Africa (Sabinet))

PENNICILLIUM - Grows on fruits, breads and cheese. A mutant form of the penicillium mould is used in the manufacture of penicillin. Allergy to penicillium spores however, should not be confused with allergy to penicillin as a medication. (see: Characterisation of allergens and airborne fungi in low and middle-income homes of primary school children in Durban, South Africa (PMC))
ALTERNARIA - Often found growing on carpets, textiles and horizontal surfaces such as window frames. Also found in soil, seeds and plants, as well as in water damaged buildings. (see: Identification of the allergen that is responsible for symptoms is the key to the management of the allergic patient (PDF), and Mold Allergens in Respiratory Allergy: From Structure to Therapy (PMC))RHIZOPUS - Typically found in children’s sand boxes, in clusters of pine needles and leaves, sweet potato, strawberries, stewed fruit and amongst the nest, feathers and droppings of wild birds. (see: Mold Allergens in Respiratory Allergy: From Structure to Therapy (AAIR))
CURVULARIA - May cause leaf spots and seedling blight. Also seen on castor beans, cotton, rice, barley, wheat and corn. (see: Identification of the allergen that is responsible for symptoms is the key to the management of the allergic patient (PDF))CANDIDA ALBICANS - Very seldom found as an airborne mould spore. They are common in soil, organic debris and in humans as a saprophyte in the nasal pharynx and faeces. (see: About Candida albicans: Natural yeast and problematic infections (Article))

FUSARIUM - Widely distributed on numerous grasses and other plants and is a common soil fungus. Major parasites of rice, sugar cane, sorghum and maize grains. Also occurs regularly on fruit and vegetables. (see: Characterisation of allergens and airborne fungi in low and middle-income homes of primary school children in Durban, South Africa (PMC), and Occupational Allergy Among Table Grape Farm Workers in South Africa (PDF))PULLULARIA - This is the dominant fungus found on leaves. It also grows in the surface layers of many types of soils and is most prevalent following treatment of the soil with nitrogen. It has also been isolated from grasses, seeds, honey comb, nests and feathers of living birds, frozen fruit cake, leather, cotton fabrics and concrete surfaces. (see: Identification of the allergen that is responsible for symptoms is the key to the management of the allergic patient. (PDF), and The air-borne fungi in Johannesburg - a five-year survey as a basis for the study of fungus allergy in South Africa (Sabinet))
HELMINTHOSPORIUM - Best known as parasites of cereals and grasses. Frequently they are isolated from grains, grasses, sugar cane, soil and textiles. (see: Identification of the allergen that is responsible for symptoms is the key to the management of the allergic patient (PDF), and Allergic Disorders in Africa and Africans: Is It Primarily a Priority? (PDF))NIGROSPORA - Most commonly found as a plant parasite. (see: Identification of the allergen that is responsible for symptoms is the key to the management of the allergic patient. (PDF))
SMUTS - Most often found on corn, grasses, weeds, flowering plants and other fungi. Usually the spores are disseminated by wind. (see: Smut (fungus) (Wikipedia))STEMPHYLIUM - Isolated from dead plants and cellulose material. (see: Allergic bronchopulmonary stemphyliosis (PDF))

What is the difference between Food Allergies and Food Sensitivity?

Dr Jean Dodds published an excellent blog article (see: Food Sensitivity vs. Food Allergy: Is It Not Really Just the Same Thing? Dr Dodds (Article)) that will help pet parents in understanding the differences. We are often “reminded” by pet parents with difficult pets, and their vets, that food “allergies” are in fact the cause for the fur kids discomfort, whilst we know that this is not the case. The real disappointment comes when the pet parent agrees to switch the fur kids back to commercial kibble-based products to appease the vet.

  • Food allergies reflect a more immediate immunological response. A classic example of a food allergy is anaphylactic shock caused by peanuts: as soon as the person or animal comes in contact with the allergen “the peanuts“ their airway closes and they cannot breathe. This response is virtually instantaneous. Boom! The antigen (in this case, peanuts) triggers an immediate, and sometimes life-threatening, immunological and physiological reaction. Rashes, hives and swollen eyes are examples of less severe “but also serious“ allergic responses. These are all called Type I hypersensitivity reactions. In the blood, they show up as antibodies to immunoglobulins E (IgE) and G (IgG) working together with immune complexes.
  • Food sensitivity (or intolerance), on the other hand, is typically a chronic condition and often does not involve an immunological response. It generally builds up over time, perhaps even after months or years of exposure to the offending food. Food sensitivity is caused by Types II and III hypersensitivity reactions. They show up in saliva or faeces as antibodies to immunoglobulins A (IgA) and M (IgM). By detecting IgA and IgM antibodies, food sensitivity testing is able to clearly identify the specific food(s) causing the sensitivity or intolerance. It can also differentiate between food sensitivity and food allergy.

Although they are generally not life-threatening, food sensitivities can affect many different aspects of the dogs physical well being. Common signs of food sensitivity include:

  • GI tract issues similar to Irritable Bowel Disorder (IBD);
  • Chronic scratching itchy skin;
  • Chronic burping and gas rumblings (borborigmi);
  • Chronic skin, ear and foot infections, especially with yeast;

The first step in providing the proper relief to the fur kids’ with food sensitivities is to accurately identify the offending ingredient(s). With the proper information, you can begin feeding your fur kid a diet that agrees with his body, and he can get back to doing what he does best, being a dog.

Atopic Dermatitis

Veterinarians rank atopic dermatitis as being the most common allergy affecting dogs, and usually presents when the dog is young. Atopy as it can often be called is triggered by a variety of different antigens, for instance, dust, mould, pollens and other airborne and surface organic materials. The dog may appear healthy with no visible symptoms and then start scratching and chewing intensely and in some cases until the skin is raw, broken and bleeding.

Parasitic Dermatitis

Usually presents with the dog constantly scratching, pawing and chewing. Fleas are again the main cause of parasitic dermatitis  as well as mites, deer fleas, gnats, chiggers and ticks to a far lesser degree. Sarcoptes and Cheyletiella mites  are particularly nasty and usually cause a severe reaction resulting in scabs forming in the affected areas. The Demodex mite normally attacks young dogs or puppies that have an immune disorder, poor nutrition or live in a harsh environment, or have a protein deficiency.

Bacterial or Yeast Infections

Candida albicans is the most common micro-organism growing in all dogs stomachs. When an over growth occurs it causes a pH-imbalance. This happens as a result of poor nutrition, heartworm medication, thyroid problem, genetic and / or environmental stress, and in some cases long term antibiotic medication. The external symptoms of bacterial and yeast infections  usually present as constant itching and licking of paws, genital area, and redness and inflammation. There may also be an odour between the toes, the inner thighs and the dogs underarms.

Nutritional Dermatitis

Nutritional dermatitis is probably the most common of all canine skin allergies and is the result of poor nutrition. You may be buying a commercial brand dog food labelled appropriately but is missing the correct vitamins and nutrients.

Neurogenic Dermatitis

Obsessive and persistent chewing and licking characterises this form of dermatitis, and is often the result of frustration, confinement or separation anxiety.

General Discussion

As discussed by Dr. Messonnier in his book, the typical allergic pet itches but has normal appearing skin. This helps differentiate atopy from other diseases that cause itchiness but also cause skin lesions (abrasions, wounds, injuries, gashes) (mange, flea allergies, bacterial infections, yeast infections, skin cancer). The itchiness can be mild, moderate, or severe; but most allergic pets do not start off with severe itching. A pet with severe itching is more likely to have mange, fleas, or food allergies.

Many dogs and cats with allergies also have flea allergies and chronic bacterial infections. Chronic skin infections are so common in allergic dogs that every dog with chronic skin infections should be screened for atopy and hormonal diseases such as hypothyroidism, another overlooked underlying disorder. Because allergic skin is not a normal skin, it is prone to secondary infections.

Secondary yeast infections are therefore becoming increasingly common in atopic dogs. Most of the time the yeast Malassezia is the contributing agent. Dogs with secondary yeast infections are typically quite itchy, greasy with greasy yellow scales, red, and quite smelly. Yeast infections are often misdiagnosed but should be considered in any dog with the aforementioned clinical signs.

Under the next heading, we list the various skin common conditions in more detail. The itchy skin diseases in the first part (Table 1: Itchy Skin Diseases in Dogs) are characterized by constant scratching, biting at the skin, and rubbing up against objects to relieve the itch.

The next two sections, (Table 2: Hormone-Related Diseases with Hair Loss in dogs, Table 3: Other Diseases with Hair Loss in dogs) list diseases characterized by hair loss with few if any other signs. Hair loss can mean impaired growth of new hair. It may involve the entire coat, or you may see patches of hair loss on certain parts of the body. In general, hair loss caused by hormonal diseases is symmetric (the same on both sides of the body), while that caused by parasites and other causes is asymmetric.

The next heading (Table 4: Skin Diseases with Pus Drainage) lists diseases in which the predominant sign is skin infection or pyoderma . Pyoderma is characterized by pus, infected sores, scabs, ulcers of the skin, papules, pustules, furuncles, boils, and skin abscesses. As stated before, the skin infection is often secondary to some other skin disease, particularly an itchy skin disease that causes your fur kid to attack her own skin.

After that, the following section (Table 5: Autoimmune and Immune-Mediated Skin Diseases in dogs) lists autoimmune and immune-mediated skin diseases, characterized by blebs . Blebs, also called vesicles, are blisters that contain clear fluid. Large ones are called bullae. All tend to progress through rubbing, biting, and scratching, eventually producing skin erosions, ulcers, and crusts. Look for these changes to appear first on the face, nose, muzzle, and ears.

During the course of grooming, playing with, or handling your fur kid, you may discover a lump or bump on or beneath the skin. To learn what it may be, see the last section (Table 6: Lumps and Bumps on or Beneath the Skin in dogs) on lumps or bumps on or beneath the skin. Tumours and cancers, contains more information on this.

Can Raw Dog Food Cause Allergies?

Not likely, however, there are some external factors that can cause triggers. Raw and real food is the most natural nutritional and biologically appropriate buildings blocks for your cats and dogs.

eg. Vaccinations

Most vaccinations require some form of animal protein, typically beef or chicken, to grow in. During the production process of the vaccines, sometimes the antigen or antibody “get’s dragged over” with a protein molecule bonded. If this happens, the protein source then cause the allergic reaction. True food allergies involve an adverse immune response, which causes cells in the body to release histamines or compounds that lead to many allergic signs. True food allergies involve the immune system attacking a food protein. Anything the body perceives as xenobiotic (meaning foreign), it will try to expel.

In this case, the raw animal protein source is not the cause, but the result, of this trigger. In most instance these triggers dissipate over time and the “allergy” clear.

How Do You Explain Food Allergies in Dogs?

Food allergies in dogs could be very serious, and one of the culprits that pet parents often overlook. However, true allergies are very rare, and often confused for food intolerance or sensitivities. True food allergies involve an adverse immune response, which causes cells in the body to release histamines or compounds that lead to many allergic signs. True food allergies involve the immune system attacking a food protein. Anything the body perceives as xenobiotic (meaning foreign), it will try to expel. Food intolerance, however, does not involve an immune response – but the signs can look pretty similar.

THAT Bag of Chicken Flavored McKibble …

Chicken often takes the wrap for so-called allergies. Just do some research via Uncle Google or Cousin Bing, and you will find this protein source often top the charts. Which is very unfortunate, as “THAT Bag of ChickenFLAVOURED McKibble hardly contains any chicken, a fact MOST often ignored by most writings.

THAT Bag of Chicken FLAVOURED McKibble is undoubtedly the most famous of all of them bags. It has led to that bag of “allergen-free dog food“, that bag of “limited ingredients diets” dog food, and THAT bag of “hypoallergenic dog food“.

Guilt by Association

One of the most frustrating efforts with food “allergies”, is that there is not an easy or infallible test. While many tests using blood, saliva, and even hair that can be performed by a veterinarian or purchased online – advertise that they can diagnose food allergies or sensitivities, there is no proof that they actually work.

None of the currently available tests have been shown to be accurate or infallible, by doing so, that non-allergic dogs test negative and allergic dogs, and only allergic dogs, test positive.

In fact, multiple studies, including “Measurement of allergen-specific IgG in serum is of limited value for the management of dogs diagnosed with cutaneous adverse food reactions“, have shown that these kinds of tests are not very helpful in diagnosing food allergies or “intolerance”, despite their widespread use for this purpose.

THAT Bag of Chicken FLAVOURED McKibble has resulted in CHICKEN been judged, found guilty, and convicted, simply by association, as the so-called top allergenic culprit.

Food sensitivities are much more common than allergies.

Further Reading

  1. Hagen-Plantinga EA, Leistra MHG, Sinke JD, Vroom MW, Savelkoul HFJ, Hendriks WH. Measurement of allergen-specific IgG in serum is of limited value for the management of dogs diagnosed with cutaneous adverse food reactions. The Veterinary Journal. Published online February 2017:111-116. doi:10.1016/j.tvjl.2017.01.009

My Dog is Allergic to Chicken, What About Other Poultry Sources?

Current research is showing that genomes between avian species have less copy number variants than mammalians. So, the logical assumption that your pet is sensitive to one bird protein and will be to another, is not necessarily true. Each protein is different and you could be denying your pet a vital protein source. They may still have a reaction but, it is best to try each one before crossing it off your list. Many dogs “allergic” to chicken thrive on Turkey, Duck, Pheasant, etc.

Will a Raw Food Diet for my Dog help with Allergies?

It is indeed possible. A switch to raw food may alleviate allergic symptoms your pet may be having. There is a good chance that simply stopping the consumption of highly processed commercial pet food, will improve those symptoms. For example, many pets are allergic to protein in grains. These allergies can be seen in symptoms of chronic yeast infections, skin rashes and stiff joints or arthritic conditions. Long-term exposure to large amounts of grains, for our fur kids, can be a precursor to more serious and permanent illness over time. But it is never too late to switch to a raw and real food diet. Pets of any age can be given a new diet and benefit from it very quickly.

The list below is not exhaustive.

As with most conditions, the most healthful natural diet will improve the pets overall health.

Table 1: Itchy Skin Diseases in Dogs

ConditionShort Description
Allergic contact dermatitis Skin Rash Due to Contact with Irritants in Dogs (PetMD)Same as contact dermatitis, but rash may spread beyond the area of contact. Requires repeated or continuous exposure to allergen (such as wearing a flea collar).
Canine atopy Atopic Dermatitis Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments (PetMD)Severe itching that occurs in young dogs and begins in late summer and fall. Caused by seasonal pollens. Occurs in mixed breeds as well as purebreds. Common. Tends to get worse each year. May start with face rubbing and foot chewing.
Chiggers Sarcoptic Mange in Dogs (PetMD)Itching and severe skin irritation between the toes and around the ears and mouth. Look for barely visible red, yellow, or orange chiggers.
Contact dermatitisRed, itchy bumps and inflamed skin at the site of contact with a chemical, detergent, paint. or other irritant. Primarily affects feet and hairless parts of the body. Can also be caused by rubber or plastic food dishes, with hair loss on the nose.
Damp hay itch (pelodera)Red pimple like bumps on skin. Severe itching. Occurs in dogs bedded on damp hay and similar grass. Caused by a parasite.
Flea allergy dermatitis Flea Allergies in Dogs (Flea Allergy Dermatitis) (PetMD)Red, itchy pimple like bumps over the base of the tail, back of rear legs, and inner thighs. Scratching continues after fleas have been killed.
FleasItching and scratching along the back, and around the tail and hindquarters. Look for fleas, or black and white gritty specks in hair (flea faeces and eggs).
Fly-bite dermatitisPainful bites at tips of erect ears and bent surfaces of floppy ears. Bites become scabbed and crusty black, and bleed easily.
Food allergy dermatitis Skin Disease Due to Food Allergies in Dogs (PetMD)Non-seasonal itching with reddened skin, papules, pustules, and wheals. Found over the ears, rump, back of the legs, and under surface of the body. Sometimes confined just to the ears with moist, weeping redness.
Grubs / Cuterebra Botflies (Maggots) in Cats (PetMD)Inch-long fly larvae that form cyst-like lumps beneath the skin with a hole in the centre for the insect to breathe. Often found beneath the chin, by the ears, or along the abdomen.
LiceTwo-millimetre-long insects, or white grains of “sand” (nits) attached to the hair. Not common. Found in dogs with matted coats. May have bare spots where hair has been rubbed off.
Lick granuloma (acral pruritic dermatitis) Acral Lick Dermatitis (PetMD)Red, shiny skin ulcer caused by continuous licking at wrist or ankle. Mainly in large, short-coated breeds.
MaggotsSoft-bodied, legless fly larvae found in damp matted fur or wounds that aren’t kept clean.
Scabies (sarcoptic mange) Sarcoptic Mange in Dogs (PetMD)Intense itching. Small red spots that look like insect bites on the skin of the ears, elbows, and hocks. Typical crusty ear tips.
TicksLarge or very small insects attached to the skin. May swell up to the size of a pea. Found beneath the ear flaps and where hair is thin. May or may not induce itching.
Walking dandruff (cheyletiella mange) Skin Mite Dermatitis in Dogs (PetMD)Occurs in puppies 2 to 12 weeks of age. Large amounts of dry, scaly, flaky skin over the neck and back. Itching is variable.

Table 2: Hormone Related Diseases with Hair Loss in Dogs

ConditionShort Description
Cortisone excessSymmetric hair loss over trunk and body. Abdomen is pot-bellied and pendulous. Seen with Cushing’s syndrome. In some cases, the dog is taking steroids.
Growth hormone-responsive alopeciaBilaterally symmetric hair loss, mainly in male dogs. Begins around puberty. More prevalent in certain breeds, including Chow Chows, Keeshonds, Pomeranians, Miniature Poodles, Airedales, and Boxers.
Hyperestrogenism (estrogen excess) Baldness and Hormone-Related Skin Disorders in Dogs (PetMD)Occurs in females and males. Bilateral symmetric hair loss in perineum and around genitals. Enlarged vulva and clitoris; in males, pendulous prepuce. Seen in intact male dogs with testicular tumours (e.g. seminoma) and cryptorchidism - more common in the Boxer, Shetland Sheepdog, Weimaraner, German Shepherd, Cairn Terrier, Yorkshire Terrier, Pekingese and Collie. Male pseudohermaphrodite - affecting Miniature Schnauzer - associated with testicular tumours in intact, non-neutered males
Hypoestrogenism (estrogen deficiency) Hair Loss Due to Lack of Growth Hormone in Dogs (PetMD)Occurs in older spayed females. Scanty hair growth and thinning coat, initially around vulva and later over entire body. Skin is smooth and soft, like a baby’s. More common in the Boxer and Dachshund. Variant - cyclical flank baldness and darkening of the skin in the Airedale, Boxer and English Bulldog.
Hypothyroidism Thyroid Hormone Deficiency in Dogs (PetMD)Most common cause of bilaterally symmetric hair loss without itching. Coat is thin, scanty, and falls out easily. Involves the neck beneath the chin to the brisket, sides of body, backs of thighs, and top of tail.

Table 3: Other Diseases with Hair Loss in Dogs

ConditionShort Description
Acanthosis nigrans Skin Disease (Canine Seborrhea) in Dogs (PetMD)Mainly in Dachshunds. Hair loss begins in armpit folds and on ears. Black, thick, greasy, rancid-smelling skin.
Colour mutant alopecia (blue Doberman syndrome) Colour Dilution Alopecia (WikiVet)Loss of hair over the body, giving a moth-eaten look. Papules and pustules may appear in areas of hair loss. Also affects other breeds.
Demodectic mange Pyotraumatic dermatitis (Wikipedia)Localised - Occurs in puppies. Hair loss around eyelids, lips, and corners of mouth, occasionally on the legs or trunk, giving a moth-eaten look. Fewer than five patches, up to 25 mm in diameter.

Generalised - Numerous patches that enlarge and coalesce. Severe skin problem complicated by pyoderma. Primarily affects young adults. Generalised form is associated with immune deficiencies.
Nasal solar dermatitis (Collie nose)
Diseases of the Skin on the Nose in Dogs (PetMD)
Loss of hair at junction of nose and muzzle. Can lead to severe ulceration. Affects dogs with lightly pigmented noses. May be part of an autoimmune problem.
Pressure sore (Callus)Grey, hairless, thickened pad of wrinkled skin, usually over elbows but may involve other pressure points. Caused by lying on hard surfaces. Mostly seen in large and giant breeds.
Ringworm Ringworm in Dogs (PetMD)A fungal infection. Scaly, crusty circular patches 12 to 50 mm across. Patches show central hair loss with a red ring at the periphery. Some cases show widespread involvement.
Sebaceous adenitis Inflammatory Skin Disease in Dogs (PetMD)Seen mainly in Standard Poodles, but does occur in other breeds, including Akitas. Symmetrical loss of hair over face, head, neck, and back. Dandruff like scales and hair follicle infection can develop.
Seborrhea Skin Disease (Canine Seborrhea) in Dogs (PetMD)Dry type - Similar to heavy dandruff.

Greasy type - Yellow-brown greasy scales that adhere to hair shafts; rancid odour. May occur secondary to other skin problems.
Vitiligo Vitiligo in Dogs and Cats: Everything You Need to Know (PetMD)Some hair loss, but mostly pigment loss that causes hair to change colour. Mostly seen on the face and head. Seen most often in Rottweilers and Belgian Tervuren.
Zinc-responsive dermatosis Zinc Deficiency (WikiVet)Crusty, scaly skin with hair loss over the face, nose, elbows, and hocks. Cracked feet. Caused by zinc deficiency. Arctic or Northern breeds are most susceptible.

Table 4: Skin Diseases with Pus Drainage

ConditionShort Description
Actinomycosis and nocardiosis Actinomycetes Overview (WikiVet)Uncommon skin infections with abscesses and draining sinus tracts that discharge pus and respond slowly to treatment.
Acute moist dermatitis (hot spots) Pyotraumatic dermatitis (acute moist dermatitis, hot spot) (VetPractice)Rapidly advancing patches of inflamed skin from which the hair falls out. The skin is covered with a wet exudate of pus. Progresses through self-chewing and results in pyoderma. Often occurs under ear flaps of dogs with drop ears, such as Newfoundland’s and Golden Retrievers. May be associated with an underlying skin disease, but can also occur in hot, humid weather if dogs swim or are bathed and don’t dry thoroughly.
Cellulitis or abscess Cellulitis in Dogs (VetInfo)Painful, warm, reddened skin or pockets of pus beneath the skin. Look for a cause, such as a foreign body, bite wound, or self-trauma from irritated skin disease.
Folliculitis (hair pore infection) Sarcoptic Mange in Dogs (PetMD)Hair shaft protrudes through the centre of a pustule.

Superficial - Similar to impetigo, but extends to involve armpit folds and chest.

Deep - Pustules become larger and firmer. Pus, crusts, and draining tracts in the skin.
Impetigo Canine impetigo in puppies (VetPractice)Pustules and thin brown crust on hairless skin of abdomen and groin. Occurs in young puppies. May also be called puppy acne.
Interdigital cysts Interdigital Cysts in Dogs (VetPartner)A swelling between the toes that may open and drain pus.
Mycetoma Mycetomas (MSD ManualMSD ManualMSD Manual)Painful swelling at the site of a puncture wound, usually on the legs or feet. Pus drains through sinus tracts deep in the mass. Usually caused by a fungus, but can be bacterial.
Puppy acnePurplish red bumps on the chin and lower lip. Not painful. Also called impetigo.
Puppy strangles (juvenile pyoderma) Skin Ulcers in Dogs (PetMD)Painful swelling of the face (lips, eyelids, ears), followed by rapid appearance of pustules and draining sores. Swollen lymph nodes around the head and neck. Occurs in puppies under 4 months of age.
Skin fold pyoderma (skin wrinkle infection) Overview of Pyoderma (MSD Manual)Red, inflamed skin with a foul odour in a lip fold, nose fold, vulvar fold, or tail fold.

Table 5: Autoimmune and Immune Mediated Skin Diseases in Dogs

ConditionShort Description
Bullous pemphigoid Mouth Inflammation and Ulcers (Chronic) in Dogs (PetMD)Similar to pemphigus vulgaris, but usually begins at the junction of the skin and the mucous membranes. The mouth is commonly involved.
Discoid lupus erythematosusAffects the flat surface of the nose. Ulceration and depigmentation are characteristic.
Erythema multiforme Skin Reactions to Drugs in Dogs (PetMD)Acute eruption of the skin and mucous membranes. Often caused by drugs. Characteristic target like eruptions with red rims and blanching at the centre.
Pemphigus erythematosusSimilar to pemphigus foliaceus, but restricted to the face, head, and foot pads.
Pemphigus foliaceus Skin Disease, Autoimmune (Pemphigus) in Dogs (PetMD)Red skin patches (macules) that progress rapidly to pustules and then to dry yellow crusts. Usually limited to the face (nose, muzzle, around the eyes and ears). Crusts adhere to underlying skin and hair. Often becomes generalized. Depigmentation seen in late stages. The feet can become thickened and cracked. Occasionally only the foot pads are involved.
Pemphigus vegetansFlat-topped pustules involving skin folds. Heals with wart like growths.
Pemphigus vulgarisVesicles and bullae that ulcerate and form thick crusts. Usually found around the lips and in the mouth, but may be generalized. Ulceration of foot pads and shedding of nails are common.
Nodular panniculitis Fatty Layer or Nodule Under the Skin in Dogs (PetMD)Multiple lumps (like marbles beneath the skin) over the back and along the sides. Lumps open and drain, then heal by scarring.
Systemic lupus erythematosus Systemic Autoimmune Disease in Dogs (PetMD)Skin involvement similar to pemphigus foliaceus. First sign may be wandering lameness. Ulceration of foot pads is common.
Toxic epidermal necrolysis Skin Reactions to Drugs in Dogs (PetMD)Severe, painful skin disease. Blebs and ulcers involve the skin, mucous membranes, and foot pads. Large sections of skin are shed as in a burn injury.

Table 6: Lumps and Bumos on OR Beneath the Skin in Dogs

ConditionShort Description
AbscessA painful collection of pus at the site of a bite or puncture wound.
Basal cell tumour Skin Cancer (Basal Cell Tumor) in Dogs (PetMD)Solitary nodule, usually on a narrow base or stalk. Round, normally hairless, and may be ulcerated. Found on the head, neck, and shoulders of older dogs.
Ceruminous gland adenoma Ceruminous Gland Tumors (MSD ManualMSD ManualMSD Manual)A pinkish-white dome-shaped growth in the ear canal less than 1 centimetre in size. May become ulcerated and infected.
Epidermal inclusion cystA firm lump beneath the skin. May discharge cheesy material and become infected.
Hematoma Hematoma on Dogs (PetMD)A collection of clotted blood beneath the skin; often involves the ear flaps.
Histiocytoma Skin Tumor (Histiocytoma) in Dogs (PetMD)Rapidly growing dome-shaped (button like) growth found anywhere on the body, usually in young adults.
Lipoma Fatty Skin Tumors in Dogs (PetMD)Smooth round or oblong growth beneath the skin; feels somewhat soft.
Mast cell tumour Mast Cell Tumor (Mastocytoma) in Dogs (PetMD)Solitary or multiple growths usually found on the trunk, perineum, and legs. More prevalent in certain breeds, including Boxers, Golden Retrievers, Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers.
Melanoma Melanoma Tumors in Dogs (PetMD)A brown or black pigmented nodule found in areas of dark skin. Growths in mouth and nailbeds usually are malignant.
Perianal Fistula (AF) Chronic Inflammation of the Anus, Rectum or Perineum Region in Dogs (PetMD)Characterized by a chronic, painful and progressive inflammatory disease of the perianal, anal and perirectal tissue. Recent studies showing clinical resolution with diet changes emphasizes the important role dietary allergens play in the etiology of this disease. This disease mainly affects large breed dogs such as the German Shepherd, Irish Setter, Labrador Retriever, Old English Sheepdog and Border Collie. In German Shepherds, an association between perianal fistulas and colitis exists, further emphasizing the role of inflammatory mediators in this disease.
Perianal gland tumour Anal Gland Cancer in Dogs (PetMD)A solitary or multinodular growth in the perineum around the anus. Occurs most often in older intact males.
Sebaceous adenoma Lumps, Bumps, Cysts & Growths on Dogs (PetMD)Also called sebaceous cyst. Smooth, pink, wart like growth less than 2.5 cm in diameter. Most common on the eyelids and limbs. Occurs in older individuals (average age 10). Very common in Poodles and Cocker Spaniels.
Skin papillomas All About Dog Warts: Types, Causes, and Treatments (PetMD)These grow out from the skin and may look like a wart. Not painful or dangerous
Soft-tissue sarcomas 8 Types of Dog Tumors and How to Treat Them (PetMD)Ill-defined or well-demarcated masses of varying size and location. Often slow growing.
Squamous cell carcinoma Skin Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) in Dogs (PetMD)A non-healing grey or reddish-looking ulcer found on the belly, scrotum, feet, legs, lips, or nose. May resemble a cauliflower like growth.
Transmissible venereal tumours Sexually Transmitted Tumors in Dogs (PetMD)Ulcerated, often multiple cauliflower-like growths on the genitalia of both sexes.

So what am I to Do?

Breathe. Start with a blank page. Go back to basics. Nobody can define the value of our pets, or associate a monetary target to them. Therefore, time should not be a trade-off in our journey trying to navigate Pandoras box of allergy causes and contributors. Other than de-sexing (it warrants a whole separate thesis):

  • Do not over vaccinate. Ask yourself, do he, she or they really need to have that vaccination?
  • If so, ask your vet not to use all-in-one jabs. Vaccinate weeks apart to give the immune system time to recover. Perhaps your vet is open to titre testing. Much better approach to test the antigen or antiviral loads before agreeing to vaccinating.
  • Do not use ticks and fleas prevention chemicals if there are no ticks and fleas. Keep in mind that most veterinary over-the-counter medicines do not deter or prevent ticks and fleas. Most of these chemicals act systemically against ticks and fleas, and ultimately, your pet. In order for the tick or flea to die, it must first have a bite. So these toxins must stay in the blood stream for this to happen. And like vaccinations, these chemicals become cumulative in the body. Rather consider natural or herbal preventative solutions first.
  • Do not de-worm if there are no worms. Your vet can do fecal analysis to determine if worms are a problem or not. And even if so, consider natural or herbal solutions first.
  • Investigate real food. McKibble and McCan cannot contain real food. No bag of rendered animal or plant-based protein powder can survive as long as a bag of McKibble without a serious amount of chemicals helping it along. No McCan can not go rancid without a serious amount of chemicals stopping it. You will not find a cockroach feasting on a bag of McKibble, and they can survive nuclear holocaust (the roaches that is …). Checkout our supreme catalogue of food at our storefront.
  • Remember that true food-based allergies are extremely rare. Yes, some huumans become allergic to peanuts, but considering that for some vaccines, Peanut Oil #65 is used as an adjuvant, it kind of lead us to speculate that drag over resulted in a Peanut Oil #65 protein molecule binding to an antibody entering the huumans immune system via the jab might be the reason.
  • Remember, there is a difference between allergies and intolerance, and that chicken-flavored bag of McKibble might not have sufficient viable chicken-based protein in it to warrant the scrutiny, but the chemicals used to preserve it might warrant it instead.

All the above reflect unfavorable on your vet, and it is not their fault. It is very much systemic of our current instant gratification society. Take responsibility for the decisions you make on behalf of your fur kids and stay informed.

Articles and Videos

Good reference articles & videos further reading available at:

  • Dr. Jean Dodd, Coconut Oil: The good saturated fat (Dr Dodds);
  • Diet and Skin Disease in Dogs and Cats by Tim Watson from the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, Waltham-on-the-Wolds, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, UK (Nutrition.Org);
  • Understanding Canine Allergies (Whole Dog Journal);
  • Dr. Becker, Allergies In Pets (Dr Becker);
  • Dr. Becker, Allergic Dermatitis: The #1 Sign Your Pet Has Allergies – And What to Do About It (Mercola)
  • Dog Skin Allergies & How To Deal with Them (Organic Pet);
  • Dr. Becker, Help Your Dog Overcome These 3 Common Allergies… (Mercola);
  • Itchy Skin Wins Big, A Mystery to Vets (Dogs Naturally Magazine);
  • Dr. Becker, Is Your Dog Chronically Itchy or Smelly? Could Be This (Mercola);
  • Dr. Becker, Could This Natural Remedy Relieve Your Dog’s Itching and Scratching? (Mercola);
  • Dr. Jean Dodd, Food Sensitivity vs. Food Allergy: Is it not really just the same thing?, (Dr Dodds);
  • Canine Atopic Dermatitis: New Targets, New Therapies, by Douglas J. DeBoer from the Department of Medical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706 (Nutrition.Org);
  • Clark, W.R., Hypersensitivity and Allergy, in At War Within: The double edged sword of immunity, 1995, New York, Oxford University Press (Amazon);
  • Mould allergy (South Africa) (Allergy Foundation);
  • South African report of first case of chromoblastomycosis caused by Cladosporium (syn Cladophialophora) carrionii infection in a cat (PubMED);
  • Invasive aspergillosis in developing countries (PubMED);
  • Indoor Mold, Toxigenic Fungi, and Stachybotrys chartarum: Infectious Disease Perspective (PubMED);
  • Seasonal respiratory allergy and the associated pollens in South Africa (Journals South Africa) (requires Adobe PDF reader);
  • Mold allergy (South Africa) (Health 24);
  • Characterisation of allergens and airborne fungi in low and middle-income homes of primary school children in Durban, South Africa (PubMed);
  • Common indoor and outdoor aero-allergens in South Africa (AJOL);
  • Mold Allergens in Respiratory Allergy: From Structure to Therapy (PubMed);
  • The South African Journal of Natural Medicine 2008, Issue 39, pp 72 to 80. Treating candidiasis (Article);
  • Occupational allergy among table grape farm workers in South Africa – (UCT) (requires Adobe PDF reader);
  • The Air-Borne Fungi in Johannesburg (Journals South Africa) (requires Adobe PDF reader);
  • Allergic Disorders in Africa and Africans: Is It Primarily a Priority? (PubMed);
  • Aerospora of an Eragrostis curvula pasture in South Africa (BioMED);
  • SMUT (Fungus) (WikiPedia);
  • Allergic bronchopulmonary stemphyliosis NCBI (PubMed) (requires Adobe PDF reader).

Dr Karen Becker provides An Overview of Pet Allergies

Video Link:

Dr. Becker Discusses Seasonal Support For Pets

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Raw Diets and Allergic Reactions & Food Intolerances

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Raw Diets and Skin Conditions by Dr Vicky Payne

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Dr. Karen Becker: How to Treat Allergies in Your Pet

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Dr. Karen Becker on how to Treat Your Pet’s Environmental Allergies

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Dr. Karen Becker talks about Yeast Infection in Dogs

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  1. Holm J, Baerentzen G, Gajhede M, et al. Molecular basis of allergic cross-reactivity between group 1 major allergens from birch and apple. J Chromatogr B Biomed Sci Appl. 2001;756(1-2):307-313. doi:10.1016/s0378-4347(01)00089-5
  2. Fritsch R, Bohle B, Vollmann U, et al. Bet v 1, the major birch pollen allergen, and Mal d 1, the major apple allergen, cross-react at the level of allergen-specific T helper cells. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1998;102(4 Pt 1):679-686. doi:10.1016/s0091-6749(98)70287-8

* Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinarian or doctor.